Upper Central Zone has implemented a system to eradicate unnecessary pressure from their school rugby league events, and feedback from the community suggests that it is working.

Every August, Upper Central Zone (UC) and Sport Bay of Plenty run nine-a-side, one-day, rugby league tournaments for schools to participate in. The tournaments feature 20 teams in the Western Bay of Plenty (WBOP) and 16 teams in the Central Bay of Plenty (CBOP) ranging from years five to eight.

This year’s competition saw a twist in priority, with participation and behavioural standards being the prominent focus. Feedback from coaches, teachers and staff proposed that in past years, youth have felt under extreme pressure to perform for multiple reasons and this has discouraged them from taking part.

This sentiment is supported by Sport NZ’s Balance is Better philosophy where it is encouraged to place fun over competitiveness. Balance is Better is an evidence-based approach and research has suggested that the competitive structure can dishearten youth from playing sport.

Tony Lajpold, from Upper Central reiterates that the way to release this pressure is to emphasise participation over competition.

“The kids look forward to the tournament every year, but underlying pressures from coaches or parents have had a big impact on them wanting to compete. This time around, you could see the players genuinely enjoying themselves knowing they were not expected to win every match.”

Teams were awarded points not only on results but also their behaviour both on and off the field. After seeing the positive impact it’s had on the students, it’s encouraged staff to continue in with the “family” orientated environment achieved during the competition.

“As a Zone, we work closely with Sport NZ to provide an equal and enjoyable sporting experience for our schools, in line with their Balance is Better strategy,” Tony added.

“The wellbeing of our rangatahi, both physical and mental will always be a priority. It is great to see smiles back on the faces of the students and our next steps will be to ensure these smiles remain permanent.”